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December 18, 2020
316 x 305 x 191 mm
Got a thousand dollars to spend and looking for closed-back headphones? You’ve come to the right place. There are many reasons to justify expensive headphones are worth it, but we won’t fault you if you look away now. There’s a lot to love about the Focal Celestee, if you can look past the $999 USD price tag. We spent a week with the Focal Celestee to learn everything you need to know before making this large investment.
Audiophiles with deep pockets will appreciate the gorgeous design of the Focal Celestee that allows for listening in a wide variety of environments. This could also be a worthy closed-back pair of headphones for content creators to test out tracks alongside their open-back headphones and monitor speakers.
What is it like to use the Focal Celestee?
Unlike Focal’s open-back headsets (which are even more expensive), the Focal Celestee has a closed-back, over-ear design. It’s immediately apparent that these headphones are nothing short of luxurious. Design is subjective, but I find the navy blue leather with copper accents simply stunning. Material choice is top notch and every component of the Celestee feeling sturdy. Unfortunately, the weight of these premium materials creates a hot spot at the crown of my head. It takes about two hours for any discomfort to set in though.
Soft leather encompasses the headband and wraps the ear pads, which helps them conform to the wearer’s ears. If you look close enough, you’ll see a ring of mesh on the inner circle of the pads to allow airflow. Combining the memory with the headphones’ strong clamping force provides a good fit. A strong seal around your ears prevents noise from leaking in, or your audio from leaking out. While that means the headphones passively block out ambient noise, you probably shouldn’t buy these hefty jewels for your everyday commute. Plus, those with above-average-sized heads may experience more discomfort than I.
The headphones don’t rotate or fold up as they do on the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort 45, but the zippered carrying case makes these cans somewhat portable. You must detach the cable from the headset to place it in the carrying case, and the whole package takes up quite a bit of space in a bag. Even with its bulky build, bringing these Focal headphones along is still fairly easy when traveling.
How do you connect the Focal Celestee?
The Focal Celestee uses one 3.5mm TS jack on each side to attach the Y cable, which terminates in a 3.5mm TRS jack. The included cable is only 1.2 meters (4ft) long, which can be a bit limiting depending on your audio setup. Instead, this cabling seems more appropriate for plugging the Celestee into a portable device like a phone. If you go the mobile route, be aware that there’s no in-line mic for phone calls.
Reinforcements at each termination help prevent breakage, and the outer sheath is sturdy enough to limit tangling. Focal also includes a 1/8- to 1/4-inch adapter in the package. It will work directly with any phone (with an analog output dongle if needed), laptop, or music player, any of which should be able to get the Celestee to acceptable volume levels.
How well does the Focal Celestee block out noise?
Unlike audiophile equipment meant for quiet, acoustically treated rooms, the Celestee’s effective passive isolation means the headset performs well in most environments. The clamping force and thick ear pads reduce most environmental noise from one-half to nearly one-sixteenth its original perceived loudness. These headphones are great for tuning out office chatter or noisy kids at home. On the other hand, if you plan on listening in a quiet, isolated, environment, you might also want to consider open-back headphones such as the Focal Clear.
How does the Focal Celestee sound?
Editor’s note: this review uses a hover-enabled glossary, based on a consensus vocabulary. You can read about it here.
The Focal Celestee provides a listening experience that works better for some genres than others. The overall tonality of the headphone leans “darker,” but not excessively so. The Celestee has a tailored response that follows the basic gist of our in-house preference curve, with some notable deviations. There’s a boost of low frequencies from 70-130Hz, bringing out the fundamentals of bass notes. Above that, here’s a little under-emphasis in the 200-400Hz region relative to our ideal frequency response, and some surprising unevenness in the higher register between 4-10kHz. While it’s fairly enjoyable to listen to, we wouldn’t recommend it as your only reference for professional audio work.
Lows, mids, and highs
A boost in the response around 100Hz is immediately apparent when auditioning the song Dreams (2004 remaster) by Fleetwood Mac. This boost lends some extra bass strength to the droning bass guitar part that underpins the song, though it does border on “boominess.” The bass shaping adds some unnecessary weight to the kick drum and toms, which is apparent during drum fills. The headphones reproduce the attack of those transients quite well, however. The hi-hat off to the right draws negative attention to itself, which seems to tie in with the 8kHz peak in the frequency response. Stevie Nicks’ vocals don’t quite stand out from the instrumentation like I’m used to hearing, meaning the presentation doesn’t match my expectations.
The song Ooh La La by Goldfrapp is an example of a song that sounds particularly good on the Celestee. The synthesized bass parts work well without sounding overbearing. The mix creates a great sense of envelopment, and as it gets dense, each component continues to occupy its area of the sonic landscape with good spatial clarity. All the while, Alison’s breathy vocal remains clear, front and center.
Should you buy the Focal Celestee?
The Focal Celestee is probably not worth a thousand dollars, but it’s still a pleasure to use. There are diminishing marginal returns to high-end audio equipment—performance gains are slim compared to some of the best headphones that cost less than half as much. Still, for the right person with deep enough pockets, that marginal improvement may be worth it.
Minor grievances such as the hefty clamping force and slight frequency deviations from our target curve will justifiably prevent some listeners from selecting the Celestee over the competition. You should settle for nothing short of your exact preferences at this price. However, most who get to try out the Focal Celestee headphones should find them enjoyable, while the rest of us will be wishing we had a spare grand lying around.
What are some alternatives to the Focal Celestee?
You don’t have to spend upwards of a thousand dollars to get great headphones. If you’re looking for closed-back headphones to take with you on the go, the Beyerdynamic DT 700 PRO X is a great alternative to the Focal Celestee. It’s a durable and comfortable set of headphones with replaceable parts, and costs less than one-third the price of the Focal Celestee.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to fall deep into the rabbit role, there are other great (expensive) audiophile headphones out there. The Sennheiser HD 820 has long sat atop our list of the best studio headphones as the crown jewel of Sennheiser’s offerings. Additionally, the Focal Utopia might have the most dashing review we’ve ever given a headset on our website, though the Utopia is a set of open-back headphones that runs upwards of $4,000 USD.
Frequently asked questions about the Focal Celestee
No, because we know burn-in is a myth, we can only determine that any improved performance with use refers to the headset stretching and molding over time to fit your anatomy better leading to better performance through fit.